The biggest theft in the history of Connecticut and in the history of the pharmaceutical industry — $75 million worth of drugs stolen from an Enfield warehouse — remains an unsolved mystery after more than two years.
No one's been arrested for the high-tech heist. None of the expensive drugs taken on the night of March 13, 2010 have been recovered. The investigation continues, but if the cops have any hot leads or suspects, they're not talking about them.
Which may not be all that surprising for a crime one expert compares to the sort of elaborate schemes you see in Hollywood movie thrillers.
The sophisticated team of thieves chose a stormy weekend night when they knew the Eli Lilly distribution center on Enfield's Freshwater Boulevard would be unguarded. They cut their way in through the roof using a specialized saw, rappelled down into the warehouse and disabled the alarm systems. Then they loaded 70 pallets of drugs (like Zyprexa, used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and anti-depressants like Prozac and Cymbalta) onto a tractor trailer and simply drove away.
A few experts argue the thieves had buyers lined up for these high-priced drugs before they ever broke into the bland-looking warehouse. There are differing opinions about whether someone on the inside provided information for this operation — Eli Lilly officials say no.
Some believe the medicines were swiftly shipped outside the U.S. to countries in South America, Africa or Asia where local officials don't ask too many questions.
Other former law enforcement types think the intense publicity and investigation triggered by the theft have made the stolen pharmaceuticals so hot the thieves can't unload them; that those drugs are still "cooling off" in a warehouse someplace.
By some estimates, the dudes who pulled off this job might be able to sell the drugs for as much as $25 million. One of their problems is that many of the stolen pharmaceuticals have expiration dates and after that they could be worthless.
"We are working very closely with the FBI," says Enfield Police Chief Carl Sferrazza. "Certainly, it's our expectation and hope we'll be able to bring this to a conclusion at some point. But not today."
Perhaps the biggest result so far from the Enfield theft is that a stunned pharmaceutical industry has intensified its campaign to toughen up security around drug warehouses and transportation. The number and value of pharmaceutical thefts plunged dramatically in the past year, according to one security watchdog outfit.
FreightWatch International reported only 36 drug shipments were stolen in 2011, a sharp drop from the 46 big-time pharmaceutical thefts the year before. And just two of those were worth more than $1 million.
"The Eli Lilly burglary was a significant wake-up call," says Edward M. Petow, a former head of the Miami-Dade County Police Department's cargo theft unit. "If it can happen in a warehouse in suburban Connecticut, it can pretty much happen anywhere."
"Education and awareness as a result of the Eli Lilly theft has had an impact on the industry," adds Petow, now a cargo security consultant.
"As a result of the break-in in Enfield, we have significantly improved our security around our supplies, whether in transit or in warehouses," says Eli Lilly spokesman Mark Taylor. For obvious reasons, Taylor declined to talk about those improvements.
In March, not long after the two-year anniversary of the big Enfield caper, theU.S. Food and Drug Administrationissued new reporting procedures for pharmaceutical companies to follow in cases of drug thefts.
FDA officials warned that if companies hit with big thefts fail to follow the new standards — which include public disclosure of such crimes — the feds would issue consumer alerts to warn the public about buying that company's products. The fear is that stolen drugs might be adulterated or contaminated by improper storage, and then make their way to consumers.
Chuck Forsaith, a former New Hampshire state policeman who now works as a transportation security expert, says he's confident the Enfield thieves will be caught, despite their apparent sophistication.
Forsaith is head of an organization called the Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition. Prior to 2010, drug cargo and warehouse heists had been increasing dramatically, including two thefts in other states that bore an uncanny resemblance to the Eli Lilly job.
While the dudes who did the Enfield job probably had a pretty good idea of what kinds of drugs they'd find inside that warehouse, Forsaith doubts they knew the massive "value of the things they took" until they heard on TV or read about it in newspapers. He thinks the incredible worth of the haul and the publicity that generated may be causing the thieves serious problems in fencing the drugs.
"It wouldn't surprise me at all if those products were still stashed away someplace," he says.
Forsaith says some of these major theft rings have become very organized and seriously professional because "the rewards are tremendous."
And the proof of their expertise is jobs like the Eli Lilly burglary.
As Forsaith says, "You're looking at something that rivals what you saw in the movie Ocean's 11."
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